When you have psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes scaly patches on the skin, it may be daunting to think about working out and getting sweaty. But with a few modifications, there are ways to have a safe workout despite psoriasis flare-ups.
“Patients with psoriasis have a higher than average weight,” says Delphine Lee, MD, a dermatologist at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “The inflammation that causes the skin rash in a patient with psoriasis may also be worse with obesity — and inflammation may affect your heart health.” For these reasons, exercise is particularly important for your overall health.
Exercising can help lower cardiovascular risks, which are higher in people with psoriasis, according to Dr. Lee. And losing weight through diet and lifestyle changes has also been shown to reduce the severity of psoriasis in overweight and obese people, according to an April 2015 study review in the International Journal of Obesity.
While exercising can be a challenge at times, following these six simple tips can help.
Choose your workout gear carefully. “In general, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing,” says Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City. “Friction can cause irritation and can worsen symptoms, particularly under the breasts or inner thighs.” Dr. Bhanusali recommends applying moisturizer to those sensitive areas after working out. If you’re working out on hot summer days, Bhanusali says you can apply sweat-absorbing powders to minimize perspiration.
Start safely with a low-impact workout. Aerobic activity can improve cardiovascular health, Lee says, and low-impact aerobic exercises can be a good place to start. You should also think about your joint health — about one in three people with psoriasis may also have psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. If you have access to a gym, ask a personal trainer to suggest an exercise routine that will ensure safety and encourage motivation, Lee recommends.
Don’t rule out swimming and water aerobics. Chlorine can cause dryness and irritation, which may worsen psoriasis symptoms, says Bhanusali. But swimming and water aerobics are also great exercise. To keep skin moist, he suggests applying a thin layer of moisturizerbefore getting into the pool. Heavier products like Vaseline and Aquaphor can work for severe symptoms, while Cerave is lighter for warmer weather.
Protect yourself when exercising outdoors. Natural sunlight can help with psoriasis symptoms — the way it works is that ultraviolet B (UVB) delays growth of affected skin cells, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. But only short intervals of exposure (5 to 10 minutes) are recommended to start, the group notes. Lee suggests wearing sun-protective clothing and using sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Wipe down your equipment to avoid infection. Cleaning equipment thoroughly before and after use is important. As long as the skin barrier is intact, someone with psoriasis shouldn’t be at any more risk for infection than someone without the disease, says Tien Nguyen, MD, a dermatologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. But anyone with open wounds, or those who are taking powerful medications that suppress the immune system, could be more susceptible to serious infections like cellulitis, Bhanusali says. Always cover any open cuts, and immediately clean and bandage superficial abrasions.
Don’t forget to moisturize after showering. Sweat contains salt, which can be drying and cause irritation, Bhanusali notes, so be sure to shower immediately after any physical activity. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp to ensure the best absorption.